After the April uprising was followed by inter-ethnic violence, the Uzbek-heavy city of Osh is entrenching practices that make it near-impossible for Uzbek families to make a living
An ethnic Uzbek child helps to rebuild houses, destroyed during ethnic clashes, in the city of Osh / Reuters
OSH, Kyrgyzstan -- "What is it like to lose everything?" An Uzbek man asked me over tea last week, his brow crinkled in obvious anguish. "Your wife killed, your daughter raped, your store smashed, your home burned down? What would you do?"
We were sitting in a bucolic place: a narrow, swiftly moving stream nearby gave a gentle burble while birds tweeted above us. The chaikhana, or teahouse, where we were eating lunch was nestled in the outskirts of Osh city, in an Uzbek neighborhood, called a mahallah. Narimon had invited me in this mahallah when he saw me taking pictures of some ruined buildings in the main city market. Narimon isn't his real name, but like most Uzbeks here he is unwilling to speak on the record for fear of reprisal from the Kyrgyzstan government, which is dominated, like the country itself, by the ethnic Kyrgyz majority.
Last summer, crowds of young Kyrgyz men turned these Uzbek mahallahs into scenes of horrifying violence in what people here now call "The June Events" or even "The War." Over the course of about 72 hours in June 2010, upwards of 2,000 people were killed, thousands more were beaten and raped, thousands of buildings and homes were torched, and nearly 100,000 Uzbeks fled across the border toward Andijon in nearby Uzbekistan.
The sudden onset of this violence caught many people here by surprise. There was always some tension between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities: the Uzbeks dominated the business community of Osh, and the Kyrgyz dominated the politics. But until the April Revolution last year, which saw the ouster of President Kurmanbek Bakiyev, there hadn't been much violence since the 1990 riots, part of a paroxysm of ethnic violence that accompanied the dissolution of the Soviet Union.
"Thirty years ago, there were no Kyrgyz here," Narimon said. "When they'd come down from the mountains, we'd beat them on their donkeys." He made a disgusted gesture. "Now, they beat us. Kill us. This is how it goes."
Almost every Uzbek you find in Osh has a heartbreaking story of tragedy: homes burned down, family members beaten to death in the street. The local government response has worsened the injustice. The Uzbeks who didn't lose everything in the riots and fires now face a predatory local government that threatens them unless they sign over controlling stakes of their businesses to Kyrgyz. I found several restaurants and cafes run by Kyrgyz that had been owned by Uzbeks before the June Events.
What followed the June violence was economic dislocation on a massive scale: tens of thousands of people, thousands of families have been thrown into chaos, and can't rebuild their lives so long as they must give half of their earnings over to the Kyrgyz. The response by NGOs and UN agencies here has been inadequate as well. While UNHCR (the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, which works in Osh) is very skilled at disaster relief, none of the agencies operating in this city have been able to address the fundamental social and economic problems that stem from the June Events.
"These NGOs mean well," Adilya told me. She lost her shop when a gang of Kyrgyz men smashed in her windows, stole all of her inventory and cash, and set her home on fire. "But they hire mostly Kyrgyz to work for them. I can't tell them a Kyrgyz is harassing me."
These NGOs have helped to fund a recovery effort, channeled through the local Kyrgyz-dominated government that Uzbeks feel so uncomfortable approaching for help. Most directly affected businesses have received a credit for rebuilding equivalent to about $1,000. The Kyrgyz I spoke to think this should be enough to fix a few broken windows. The Uzbeks complain that it's not enough if their business was burned to the ground, and besides which the money goes to Kyrgyz businesses first.
Some Kyrgyz businesses were affected as well. I spoke with one restaurant owner whose store was in the path of the rioters: his windows were broken, and the looters stole almost everything inside except the oven. It took nearly 11 months to find new suppliers, repair the damage, and re-open for business. On that same block, however, Uzbek businesses remain burned out husks, never rebuilt and never reoccupied.
It's difficult to look at the current situation and see hope. The Uzbeks have been systematically excluded or pushed out of public life. Most of the Uzbek men I spoke to stayed in their mahallah, afraid to be harassed by the Kyrgyz police. Most of the shoppers and low-level workers at the market are women, since they're less likely to be targeted. The Kyrgyz, on the other hand, insist there are no problems and Osh is a city picking itself up by its own bootstraps. I asked one Kyrgyz man at a political rally for Adahan Madumarov, a presidential candidate, if he thought the tension between communities was a big deal. "You know those Uzbeks," he said dismissively. "They exaggerate everything. They just want UN money."
Kyrgyz here control the government, and the fear Uzbeks feel for the future is palpable. But this is no simple case of ethnic cleansing. The tension here is economic, and has its roots in the very design of the Soviet Union, of Stalin's ethnic policies in the 1930s. By the time Gorbachev introduced market reforms in the 1980s, the Uzbeks, who are traditionally merchants and farmers, controlled a majority of the commercial activity in this little corner of Kyrgyzstan. The Kyrgyz, meanwhile, who were more reliant on animal husbandry, were impoverished by the reforms. The situation only grew worse in the 1990s. Over Kyrgyzstan's first ten years of independence, the country's per capita GDP shrank by 54 percent.
The Uzbeks affected by the June Events are desperate for justice, but they don't know where it can come from. The Kyrgyz control the courts, the police, and the mayor's office. Bishkek is wrapped up in the Presidential election and doesn't want a distraction down south. More than one Uzbek spoke, darkly, of the need to get "personal justice" for what happened. The Kyrgyz, meanwhile, seem to think the Uzbeks are just whining and should get back to work.
Meanwhile, the economic dislocation continues. Every Uzbek with money has either left or is planning to leave for Russia (the only country that will take them in any number). While many businesses have been restored, with a Kyrgyz face, the whole region is in a depression: incomes are down, many businesses are facing mounting debts, and the divisions between the Uzbek and Kyrgyz communities seems to be growing by the day. It is difficult to see a future for Osh that doesn't end in disaster.
The tension between religious liberty and same-sex marriage may eventually come to a head in the courts, but probably not through the Kentucky clerk’s case.
As Rowan County clerk Kim Davis crawls further and further out on a limb, Supreme Court experts agree that she has little chance of prevailing. District Judge David Bunning, on August 12 ordered Davis, in her capacity as county clerk, to issue marriage licenses to all couples who meet the statutory criteria for marriage in Kentucky—a definition that, since the Court’s landmark decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, includes same-sex couples.
Davis has refused, citing “the authority of God.” The U.S. Supreme Court, without comment, denied her emergency request for a stay. This throws the case back to the Sixth Circuit, which will hear the appeal of Judge Bunning’s order. Assuming she loses in the Sixth Circuit—a fairly good assumption—she would then have the alternative of petitioning the Supreme Court to hear her religious freedom claim. The Court will eventually hear a case about religious freedom and same-sex marriage, but I don’t think it will be this one.
I traveled to every country on earth. In some cases, the adventure started before I could get there.
Last summer, my Royal Air Maroc flight from Casablanca landed at Malabo International Airport in Equatorial Guinea, and I completed a 50-year mission: I had officially, and legally, visited every recognized country on earth.
This means 196 countries: the 193 members of the United Nations, plus Taiwan, Vatican City, and Kosovo, which are not members but are, to varying degrees, recognized as independent countries by other international actors.
In five decades of traveling, I’ve crossed countries by rickshaw, pedicab, bus, car, minivan, and bush taxi; a handful by train (Italy, Switzerland, Moldova, Belarus, Ukraine, Romania, and Greece); two by riverboat (Gabon and Germany); Norway by coastal steamer; Gambia and the Amazonian parts of Peru and Ecuador by motorized canoe; and half of Burma by motor scooter. I rode completely around Jamaica on a motorcycle and Nauru on a bicycle. I’ve also crossed three small countries on foot (Vatican City, San Marino, and Liechtenstein), and parts of others by horse, camel, elephant, llama, and donkey. I confess that I have not visited every one of the 7,107 islands in the Philippine archipelago or most of the more than 17,000 islands constituting Indonesia, but I’ve made my share of risky voyages on the rickety inter-island rustbuckets you read about in the back pages of the Times under headlines like “Ship Sinks in Sulu Sea, 400 Presumed Lost.”
In the name of emotional well-being, college students are increasingly demanding protection from words and ideas they don’t like. Here’s why that’s disastrous for education—and mental health.
Something strange is happening at America’s colleges and universities. A movement is arising, undirected and driven largely by students, to scrub campuses clean of words, ideas, and subjects that might cause discomfort or give offense. Last December, Jeannie Suk wrote in an online article for The New Yorker about law students asking her fellow professors at Harvard not to teach rape law—or, in one case, even use the word violate (as in “that violates the law”) lest it cause students distress. In February, Laura Kipnis, a professor at Northwestern University, wrote an essay in The Chronicle of Higher Education describing a new campus politics of sexual paranoia—and was then subjected to a long investigation after students who were offended by the article and by a tweet she’d sent filed Title IX complaints against her. In June, a professor protecting himself with a pseudonym wrote an essay for Vox describing how gingerly he now has to teach. “I’m a Liberal Professor, and My Liberal Students Terrify Me,” the headline said. A number of popular comedians, including Chris Rock, have stopped performing on college campuses (see Caitlin Flanagan’s article in this month’s issue). Jerry Seinfeld and Bill Maher have publicly condemned the oversensitivity of college students, saying too many of them can’t take a joke.
The past is beautiful until you’re reminded it’s ugly.
Taylor Swift’s music video for “Wildest Dreams” isn’t about the world as it exists; it’s about the world as seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment. In the song, Swift sings that she wants to live on in an ex’s memory as an idealized image of glamour—“standing in a nice dress, staring at the sunset.” In the video, her character, an actress, falls in love with her already-coupled costar, for whom she’ll live on as an idealized image of glamour—standing in a nice dress, staring at a giant fan that’s making the fabric swirl in the wind.
The setting for the most part is Africa, but, again, the video isn’t about Africa as it exists, but as it’s seen through the filter of nostalgia and the magic of entertainment—a very particular nostalgia and kind of entertainment. Though set in 1950, the video is in the literary and cinematic tradition of white savannah romances, the most important recent incarnation of which might be the 1985 Meryl Streep film Out of Africa, whose story begins in 1913. Its familiarity is part of its appeal, and also part of why it’s now drawing flack for being insensitive. As James Kassaga Arinaitwe and Viviane Rutabingwa write at NPR:
A Brooklyn-based group is arguing that the displacement of longtime residents meets a definition conceived by the United Nations in the aftermath of World War II.
No one will be surprised to learn that the campaign to build a national movement against gentrification is being waged out of an office in Brooklyn, New York.
For years, the borough’s name has been virtually synonymous with gentrification, and on no street in Brooklyn are its effects more evident than on Atlantic Avenue, where, earlier this summer, a local bodega protesting its impending departure in the face of a rent hike, put up sarcastic window signs advertising “Bushwick baked vegan cat food” and “artisanal roach bombs.”
Just down the block from that bodega are the headquarters of Right to the City, a national alliance of community-based organizations that since 2007 has made it its mission to fight “gentrification and the displacement of low-income people of color.” For too long, organizers with the alliance say, people who otherwise profess concern for the poor have tended to view gentrification as a mere annoyance, as though its harmful effects extended no further than the hassles of putting up with pretentious baristas and overpriced lattes. Changing this perception is the first order of business for Right to the City: Gentrification, as these organizers see it, is a human-rights violation.
Though it wasn’t pretty, Minaj was really teaching a lesson in civility.
Nicki Minaj didn’t, in the end, say much to Miley Cyrus at all. If you only read the comments that lit up the Internet at last night’s MTV Video Music Awards, you might think she was kidding, or got cut off, when she “called out” the former Disney star who was hosting: “And now, back to this bitch that had a lot to say about me the other day in the press. Miley, what’s good?”
To summarize: When Minaj’s “Anaconda” won the award for Best Hip-Hop Video, she took to the stage in a slow shuffle, shook her booty with presenter Rebel Wilson, and then gave an acceptance speech in which she switched vocal personas as amusingly as she does in her best raps—street-preacher-like when telling women “don’t you be out here depending on these little snotty-nosed boys”; sweetness and light when thanking her fans and pastor. Then a wave of nausea seemed to come over her, and she turned her gaze toward Cyrus. To me, the look on her face, not the words that she said, was the news of the night:
But letting customers buy their own would force cable companies to improve their equipment.
One of the least glamorous realities of the American cable industry is a relic invented in 1948: the cable box. The box has become a fixture in the American household, not least because it is surprisingly profitable. Earlier this year, a U.S. Senate study found that American households pay $231 a year on average renting cable boxes. Further, the report estimated that 99 percent of cable customers rented their equipment, and, across the country, that added up to a $19.5 billion industry just renting cable boxes.
The senators who commissioned the study, Ed Markey of Massachusetts and Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut, noted that this dependable rental revenue gave the industry little incentive to innovate and make better cable boxes. Which begs a really good question: Why aren’t more people purchasing their cable boxes?
Learning to program involves a lot of Googling, logic, and trial-and-error—but almost nothing beyond fourth-grade arithmetic.
I’m not in favor of anyone learning to code unless she really wants to. I believe you should follow your bliss, career-wise, because most of the things you’d buy with all the money you’d make as a programmer won’t make you happy. Also, if your only reason for learning to code is because you want to be a journalist and you think that’s the only way to break into the field, that’s false.
I’m all for people not becoming coders, in other words—as long they make that decision for the right reasons. “I’m bad at math” is not the right reason.
Math has very little to do with coding, especially at the early stages. In fact, I’m not even sure why people conflate the two. (Maybe it has to do with the fact that both fields are male-dominated.)
Massive hurricanes striking Miami or Houston. Earthquakes leveling Los Angeles or Seattle. Deadly epidemics. Meet the “maximums of maximums” that keep emergency planners up at night.
For years before Hurricane Katrina, storm experts warned that a big hurricane would inundate the Big Easy. Reporters noted that the levees were unstable and could fail. Yet hardly anyone paid attention to these Cassandras until after the levees had broken, the Gulf Coast had been blown to pieces, and New Orleans sat beneath feet of water.
The wall-to-wall coverage afforded to the anniversary of Hurricane Katrina reveals the sway that a deadly act of God or man can hold on people, even 10 years later. But it also raises uncomfortable questions about how effectively the nation is prepared for the next catastrophe, whether that be a hurricane or something else. There are plenty of people warning about the dangers that lie ahead, but that doesn’t mean that the average citizen or most levels of the government are anywhere near ready for them.
Actually, a good amount: Belittling their plight by comparing it to blue-collar workers’ ignores the trickle-down harms of an exhausting work culture.
Over the past few decades, workers without college degrees have not only seen jobs disappear and wages stagnate—the jobs that remain have, all too often, gotten worse. Constant surveillance is common; schedules are erratic; escalating performance quotas exact faster work. But these trends, often thought to be confined to front-line workers, have creeped up corporate hierarchies, affecting managers and executives. That’s prompted a new controversy: Are white-collar workers victims of exploitation, or merely whining?
A devastating report on the work culture at Amazon’s headquarters recently reignited the debate. The New York Times’s August exposé, based on dozens of interviews, portrayed a firm with all the regimentation and rigidity of military boot camp, minus the esprit de corps. Workers routinely cried at their desks. Rather than being comforted or accommodated, sick employees were dumped into Orwellianly named “Performance Improvement Plans” that simply hastened their eventual departures. Faced with a comprehensive employee-ranking system, cabals of managers agreed to praise one another while talking down the performance of others. Amazon’s “collaborative feedback tool” encouraged a Panopticon of vicious feedback—and similar software may be coming to many more firms.